Surprisingly perhaps, despite the bleak history, combined with the fact that Vermont had this season swept to a 15-0 record prior to the game, there was a sense of optimism amongst the faithful about our chances. Was this the perfect storm? Vermont were already assured of top spot with little to play for, and were playing an opponent who had never beaten them on the ground. Add this to the fact that our own form had spiked sharply in the previous 3 weeks with a demolition of Blackburn and a rare win at Noble Park, we had been playing with freedom and confidence. It’s possible that you had the recipe for a boilover.
The start of the game on the postage stamp sized ground was very familiar, with lots of contested footy, little space to work in and crowded forward lines. Vermont dominated inside 50s, but Stewy Hill dominated their forward line with a string of intercept marks. He was proving impassable early. It took until the 12 minute mark for the first goal to be scored, a cleverly calculated checkside from Brayden Mead 15m out after a long passage of possession down the school wing, Pearso releasing Mead with the penultimate kick. Lochie won the next clearance with a quick kick forward and Skave, playing in front, marked on his chest and converted from 35m straight in front. 18minutes in another quick kick forward from Lochie out of a clearance on the wing saw Leroy play in front and mark on his chest. His drop punt from 45 sneaked inside the right post and we had a 3 goal start. From there however Vermont found some form and controlled the rest of the quarter, kicking two goals to virtually eradicate our lead. Still, at QT it was Norwood 3.0 – Vermont 2.4, a more than encouraging start.
Denis had the boys focused at the break, they were tight-knit and it was clear they were up for this challenge. The 2nd quarter saw us dominate play for the first 20 minutes, keeping Vermont scoreless, Hilly once again repelling any foray forward by the home side. Matt Aver marked 35m out from a spearing Zak Carroll pass early in the quarter, and to the delight of the Norwood following slotted a great goal. It was the start of things to come for Matty Aver, ironically only switched forward when Gibbo came into the side after CQ was injured on Thursday night. Reasoning that Gibbo could play tall against a relatively small Vermont forward line ,Denis released Aver forward and he would create havoc all day for the Vermont defence. 2 minutes later Krousser led wide to one of the not very deep pockets at Vermont, marked and coolly nursed home an excellent 35m drop punt. Moments later some good forward pressure from Gys and Lochie saw Lochie swoop on a turnover, handpass forward to Pearso then run past for the 1-2. His snap from 40m floated through as the roar of the Norwood faithful went to that lovely deep guttural tone. We were all over Vermont, the game played exclusively in our F50 as our midfield dominated but narrow misses to Skave and Leroy from set shots 30m out did not exact full toll. Would we regret this later? 19mins in a chain of handpasses ended up with Leroy in the goalsquare, who went to dummy but dropped the ball. Thinking quickly, he put his boot through it off the ground to secure the hard way a goal that had looked one moment a certainty and the next an absolute clanger. At this stage we led by 29 points, and at this point in the game the mood of Norwood supporters changed. For 45 minutes we had enjoyed our side taking it up to the ladder leaders, but we were not yet fully committed to the idea of actually winning. But now, the reality of winning at Vermont for the first time was crystallizing before us. And so with that came the nerves, the riding of every kick and mark and bump… And then of course, as is the way of the footy gods, Vermont awoke from their slumber and kicked two quick ones to increase anxiety levels. Happily, soon after an errant kick-in from a behind saw Gouldy lay a great tackle, spilling the ball free for Fingers to snap truly. That guttural roar was back big time. But a skirmish following the goal saw a free paid in the centre to Vermont and they exacted maximum penalty, going long and straight to full-forward where they snapped their own goal, the quickest of replies, leaving the Norwood supporters shaking their heads at the profligacy of our ill-discipline. The HT siren rang soon after and we went to the long break with a 16 points advantage, 8.4 – 5.6, but it felt like it should have been more.
We started the 3rd quarter in fine style, Krousser winning the ball at half-forward and being bowled over late as he went deep with the kick. The resultant free to Matt Aver was converted with no trouble for his 2nd and our lead was back out to 23 points. Belief was buidling everywhere that we could actually do this… And blood pressure was rising too. 5 minutes in Rej intercepted a short kick into the middle and spotted Trent Shinners wide at Half-forward. As debate raged about whether Trent is the best set shot in the side, he calmly went back from 45m on a tight angle and split the middle, lending considerable weight to those arguing in the affirmative.. 29 points up – blood pressure further up. Around about this time, previously magnanimous mentions of Vermont’s Lochie Johns being a good player as he racked up innumerable possessions were replaced with “Who’s on Bl##dy Johns” as our emotional investment in the game reached maximum. Minutes later Vermonts Joel Perry marked 25m out, directly in front. Blood pressure up. He misses!! Blood pressure back down. Then Leroy, playing up the ground as a true old-fashioned follower, marked just behind centre wing and sent a long ball out in front of Matt Aver who marked. Blood pressure up again. From 35m he made no mistake but the blood pressure still went up another notch, this was now our game to lose and with that knowledge came added anxiety. 5 minutes later a goal to Vermont from a dubious free did not help matters and then for the next 10 minutes Stuey Hill was on the wrong end of 3 of the more mystifying umpiring decisions that have been seen in marking contests, was free kicked and though not directly responsible for any goals, this did nothing positive to our already dangerously high blood pressure levels…. Another Vermont goal finally came and we went to the 3/4T break with a handy, but not insurmountable, 21 point lead, 11.6 – 7.9.
In the huddle the buy-in from the players was unmistakeable. They wanted this – badly. So too did Denis and the coaches. The supporters were no different, having trekked here so many times previously for no reward.
Immediately upon the restart for the last stanza. Blair Hudson was taken high but his shot from a tight angle drifted narrow when a goal would have certainly helped the blood pressure. Kick-ins from our points had been a problem for Vermont all day, such was the level of our forward pressure, and this one was no different. A short kick was marked, but playing on, the Vermont player was mowed down from behind in a great chase by Matt Aver, having a brilliant game doing it all. His drop punt was perfect and the lead was now 28 points. Norwood supporters were now entering the most dangerous zone of all, the “We cant lose it from here, can we?” Zone, which has been responsible for more heart-attacks, blood-pressure issues, brawls, fist-holes in plaster and kicked in boundary fences than anything else on the planet. An immediate reply to Vermont from a free and a 25m penalty, only helped lock us in this zone further.. A freak snap from the pocket reduced the lead to just 16 points at the 9 minute mark, this was becoming too tough to take…. Some Svengali-like work out of the centre from Lochie produced a penetrating clearance to Krousser whose bullet hit Rej lace out. Salvation? No, as Rej missed and we remained wracked by fear and insecurity. But then, as if by divine interference, Jammy was held without it 35m from goal, the free paid by umpire #10 who had been anything but our friend so far in this game. As we mulled over whether Jammy could make the distance, a snide comment from the Vermont player on the mark saw Umpire #10 blow his whistle for not one but TWO 25m penalties, surely the sweetest umpiring decisions of the year for Norwood fans as it made a certainty of the goal. Blood pressure for the first time was lowered as we saw the exit sign from the “We can’t lose this, can we” zone, and we headed for it post haste. The next clearance went our way from Lochie, combining with Ben Trend to get it to Gibbo. Blair Hudson earnt a free on the wing from that kick and went to CHF where Leroy took a hanger and turned without hesitation to bomb it to the goalsquare. Pure, beautiful, raw panic ensued from the Vermont defence as Fingers was ridden into the ground, our new best friend Umpire #10 only too happy to pay the free for in the back. From 3 metres Fingers could not miss. Norwood fans were now headed into a much more pleasant zone known as “We are actually gonna win this” Zone, where pride, passion and realisation of a marvellous achievement all form an intoxicating mix that is the drug that brings us to the footy every week. Though 10 or 12 minutes of game time remained, Vermont were shot, they knew they couldn’t win and we knew we couldn’t lose. It was time to take it all in. A Vermont goal mattered little, and Leroy’s set shot hitting the post seemed not to matter either. Another Vermont goal, another Leroy point and it was back to 18 points the difference, perhaps for a fleeting second the question may have been asked had we changed Zones too quickly? But we hadn’t. A strong Aver mark and kick saw Leroy bring it down in the square where Jammy was waiting to pop through one of the most satisfying 12 metre snaps ever seen. If that wasn’t enough to satisfy us all, Leroy won the next hit-out and Krousser earnt a free. Slow-playing it, he still managed to find Aver, who made his opponent look silly for the umpteenth time that day, completely outmarking him. Fittingly, his drop punt form 30m went over the goal umpires hat for his 5th and our 16th as we marched to a historic, emphatic coast-to-coast victory, winning all four quarters. A late Vermont goal ended the scoring for the day, but only served to queue the celebrations as the siren sounded to a scoreline of:
Norwood 16.11.107(Aver 5, Leroy 2, Jessop 2, Fingers 2, Mead, Skave, Krousser, Shinners, Lochie) def. Vermont 12.12.84.
The final frontier had been conquered, we had beaten Vermont at Vermont. Celebrations in the rooms were understandably boisterous, as was the song. The coach’s pride in his players for their efforts was mirrored and seconded by everyone in the room. It truly was a great win, right up there for home and away wins with the first win over Balwyn at Balwyn back in about 2009 or 10? Best players included the whole team, Matt Aver a unanimous BOG for his 5 goals, Stuey Hill 2nd best for a huge game at CHB, Lochie in the middle, Krousser, Gouldy and Pearso round the ground were enormous, and while kicking a slightly inaccurate 2 goals 5, Leroys influence when on the ball, and his ball use as well, was telling. The rest of the team can hold its head high, they all did their bit to secure the win and they have an indelible place in Norwood history as members of the first Norwood team to beat Vermont at Vermont. Something to tell their grandkids about.